Who Will Your Family Be?

The last post talked about how our family, as the result of circumstances beyond our control, had to re-define itself.  This post invites you to take a closer look at your family and to define what you hope it to be and how you can support each other.

Do you get what you want or what you need?
  Who Will Your Family Be?

 

Parenting will be messy, complicated, challenging, rapturous, rewarding, heart wrenching, and heart filling. You will be stymied, stumped, swamped, and sustained by the love and challenges you face. As you saunter, skip, or scramble down the path of raising children, it’s worth you time to pause and consider just who you want them to be? Themselves, of course.  But part of being “themselves” will include the values and traits you instill in them, as well as the values and traits you strive for as a family.

This is your family. This is your life. You cannot always control what happens nor the actions of those in and around your family. You can, however, set the tone, the tenor, the boundaries, and the expectations.  Be open to the beautiful changes and opportunities in life and the inherent joy children bring to our lives. Clinging to expectations – yours or those of others in your tribe – will create tension and suffering.  Have expectations, but be willing to hit the pause button to reflect honestly on the circumstances, needs, and priorities.

Modern life for parents and kids has its own challenges for resources, priorities, and success.  Every family needs to define its own set of values, priorities and goals, as well as the expectations and boundaries for individuals. Family, in its truest sense, provides a haven for all to be themselves, including the exploration of self and space and ability to test-drive ideas and experiences.   It’s a place to relax, process the world and one’s work, and to learn to get along with others.  It’s a place where dignity and respect are to be modeled, practiced and where we learn to be accountable for our actions.  When we fail, and we WILL, it’s a place we learn to apologize, make reparations and move on knowing the next time it will be different.

If you’re a family caregiver, it’s worth your time to think about how you want your family to be.

If you’re a teacher or work with children, it’s helpful to understand the child in context of your students’ families, or better yet, to get to know the family and what’s most important to them.  This process of drafting a family manifesto or defining family priorities or Ways We Want to Be is akin to the process many teachers use at the beginning of the school year facilitate a class’ articulation of their own rules or guidelines.   While often called class rules or class covenants, they are much like a manifesto as they state the ideals in the most positive form.  These are written and practiced in ways that allow for exceptions or missteps, and in turn, these allow for reflection and growth. These become part of our thought process and guide our behavior.  Whether it’s a class rule that we take care of our materials and we forget to put library books away or an instance where our family manifesto says we use kind and respectful words, and we lose our tempers and yell, both examples provide ways for families and classes to talk honestly about what happened, what the underlying needs and feelings might be and how to repair any damages to property or feelings so that folks can do better – or do differently – the next time.

This process reminds me a familiar quote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Mahatma Gandhi

 

So it’s worth considering your beliefs about family and life.  Those beliefs become thoughts and then words, ideally shared with yoru family.  In turn, these become your actions and habits before finally, your destiny and legacy.

Show our kids the value of thoughtful reflection and collaboration, setting goals and learning from our mistakes are all value lessons. Maybe even some of the values and traits you might incorporate in your own family manifesto.

What do you believe is most important for your family? Post your short answer in comments. I’d love to hear what’s most important to you.

 

9 Reasons Yoga is For Kids

photo courtesy of St. Anne's School of Annapolis
photo courtesy of St. Anne’s School of Annapolis
This week students from preschool through eighth grade at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis are celebrating “Mind Body Spirit Week” with five days of events and learning about the essential connections between what we do with our bodies, how we interact with ourselves and the world and how we take care of ourselves and others.  I was lucky enough to be asked back to teach a few yoga classes with some of their young friends and then later for teachers.
Like classroom teaching, practicing yoga with children is a curious mix of joy, laughter and the unexpected.  It always makes me a better person and teacher. I  came armed with some lessons plans, but those were promptly pushed aside as we just responded to the energy and interests that arrived.  We explored of our physical bodies on the mat  and some frank discussion on mind-wandering and what it feels like to have all those big and little thoughts in our head. Oh, yes…and they eagerly shared the  things that make them feel stressed (you’d be surprised!).  Our brief chats concluded with some breath awareness and the immediate feedback that breathing deeply is, in their words:
  • calming
  • peaceful
  • feels like you’re floating
  • make me more me
From teetering tree pose to fierce planks, their asanas revealed determination, a true sense of play, friendship, and a willingness to take risks. I’m quite certain these traits carry over into other aspects of their lives. After spending several hours with these little yogis, here are 9 reasons yoga is for kids, too.
1. Yoga is for everybody because everybody has a body and everybody can breathe.
2. Yoga is about self-care.  It’s incredibly useful to learn how to care for yourself. Knowing your body and what you can do with it, along with when  you can challenge yourself, is a life lesson.
3. Yoga helps you recharge and become clear-minded.  Kids, like adults, report they feel better after doing yoga and that they are then,“very calm.” The experience of relaxation that comes with a good physical yoga practice can be very profound.
4. Yoga helps you cope with things like anxiety, depression, ADHD, anger, jealousy.  I always feel grateful after I practice yoga. It’s also the perfect time to smile and have fun!
5. Yoga is a workout, too!  It really is.  It helps regulate metabolism and increase self-awareness.  You’re also likely to feel better about yourself. 
6.  You can get better at the poses just like you can get better at a sport, As long as you are operating from a place of knowledge and respect for how your body works, expect improvement for yourself as you get stronger, your coordination improves, and your muscles lengthen.
7. You’re so lucky to be doing yoga now.  So many people say they wish they had known about yoga earlier in life.  It’s really a gift to have the time and place to practice yoga.  It’s a sacred time to acknowledge the blessings of our life, including our body and breath.
8. The point of yoga is to remain curious about what you can do.  Yoga helps you improve your mental outlook so if you’re feeling jealous, self-defeated, or envious, yoga gives you the chance to forget those methods of thinking and instead to observe and engage in your own experience.
9. Seek things to do that will empower your strength of mind, body and character like yoga and not things that will disempower you (unkind friends, things that might harm you).
Take care,
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Lisa Dewey Wells

6 Hard Truths

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I’d like to think those words don’t strike a vulnerable spot in my gut, but the hard truth is, they do.

And when they do, I tend to take it hard. When I dig out of that hard spot, I realize all I needed was to be a bit softer. A bit more accepting, yet still honest. And that’s an essential lesson to share explicitly and implicitly with kids.

I’m big on honesty, authenticity and I know we’re all far more vulnerable than we’d like to admit to anyone, especially ourselves.  Without honesty, how can there be trust? Without authenticity, how can there be satisfaction or joy?  And without vulnerability, how can we grow? How will kids see these are all opportunities for growth if we don’t model that to them?

But when we’re honest, authentic and vulnerable, it if often an uncomfortable spot. You know what I mean – when you face that Hard Truth squarely in the mirror.   No sugar-coating, no denials, no excuses, no fixing. Looking into the  magnifying mirror can be hard.

When we look authentically about what our role is in the situation, what the role of others is and what the actual reality is (not perception, not what-ifs, not the attachments to history or outcomes), that can be hard, too.

And when we’re vulnerable, we’re at the mercy of the universe and those around us. And often, that’s the hardest  of them all because it seems utterly inexplicable and unfair.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like a fabulous destination, does it?

But the truth is, it’s a necessary destination, especially when working with kids and kids and adults. It’s where we grow and learn.

Here are six hard truths I’ve witnessed recently and been called to be honest, authentic and sometimes quite vulnerable recently. We all have our own hard truths, right?

Disclosure:  “People” can and does below, apply to people of a variety of ages, stages and places. People of all types can face these hard truths, or their own special blend of Hard Truths.

 

1. People lose their temper. Hormones and adrenaline rush, hunger and exhaustion and stress take their toll. Actions are taken that are later regrettable.

Hard truth:  Apologies are necessary. Calmness must prevail. Resolving anger or frustration physically is not acceptable (unless you are a runner or release those messy emotions in some other physical activity.) Use your words. Always use spoken or written words.

2. Logical and natural consequences are often uncomfortable.

Hard truth: When the cortisol subsides, the picture is often not so bleak, and there are life lessons to be learned. Sometimes it’s in those natural consequences that we grow – as in when you forget your lunch box and nobody delivers it to you at 11 a.m., you might take steps to remember to grab it the next morning.

3. People and things change. Often, that change is uncomfortable or denied. Individual change affects others, and when others are affected, the ecosystem is disrupted.

Hard truth: Life is about change. We have to view that change for what it is and adapt. It’s okay to mourn loss or change, but eventually, we’ve all got to “keep on swimming.”  Remember how Lucy moved the football as Linus went to kick? Expect Lucy (or someone else) to move things and be prepared to shift gears so you don’t tumble over.

4. People are imperfect. They mess up. They say things they didn’t mean to say. They forget. They act out of emotions or desire, rather than logic or purpose.

Hard truth: We all do mess up.  Everyone walks their own path, with their own obstacles and triumphs. You never know what other challenges someone else is facing.  Accept mistakes, be honest if it affects you, and try not to take things too personally. Celebrate each other’s accomplishments without taking those personally, either.

5. Technology, machines and equipment fail.  Yes, we’re living the big life with technology everywhere. Your flash drive will break. Your laptop will be hit by a virus. Your phone will get wet. Your child will break that piece of crystal from Great Aunt Mavis. Someone will back into your new car.

Hard Truth: Things “should work,” but they fail. That causes problems, but most of them are fixable. with so many tiny, moving pieces, something will fail at some point or be met with an untimely and unexpected demise. No use in blaming someone, just go ahead and  be a part of the fixing.

6. The world is unpredictable.  Weather happens. Sickness happens. Friendships and jobs change.

Hard truth: Know yourself, have a support system, and ride the surf.  Swami  Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga, said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

We’ve all got our own hard truths.  Rather than lamenting how rotten they might be or putting your head in the sand, stand up to them. Be honest. Be your authentic. Be vulnerable and speak up when you need help and acknowledge what the hard truth feels like. That becomes your jumping off spot for facing those hard truths and moving forward with what comes next. It’s gonna get better after you face those hard truths (see #3).

The Secret, Part 2 – Permission for an Inner Life

Last week I let you in on The Secret.  The thing is, the real secret is much bigger than downtime.  The real secret lies in cultivating our inner world when we are “on” so much of the time with our outer world.  I am convinced that we need to share with children the importance of mindfulness, meditation or other contemplative practices.  It’s not that we need to add another class to our kids’ schedules, but rather we need to give them the permission, tools, and time to pause once in a while so that they can remember how to just be instead of always doing.

In my classroom and many others, teachers have a” meditation station” or “peace corner“ like this one from a second grade classroom at the Harley School.     We know from both practical experience and neuropsychology that when a brain becomes overly stimulated or anxious, the ability of the “upstairs  brain” to function is limited.  Finding ways to calm down, like a few minute in the peace corner, allows a child to develop the self-control to resume learning. Other teachers simply pause during teaching and practice deep breathing, careful listening, or a few minutes of silence. These carefully crafted “mindful interruptions” allow children to stop briefly during work periods and begin to use these strategies when they sense they need a break or a way to re-focus. More later in this post.

 

We need to begin this process of teaching children self-control and compassion with a focus on the adults who care for, teach, and serve as role models for our children.  Whether this starts as a formal program like the Inner-Resilience Program developed by Linda Lantieri and used by many schools across the country, or a more grass-roots approach that includes moments of silence or meditation in schools, teachers and adults who work with children need to take the bold step to advocate for their own-well being and to be given the resources and permission to do so.  Such mindfulness practices such as these give adults the permission and resources to take care of their inner world, so that they can give of themselves to others.  It’s hard to convince teachers that they deserve balance in their lives. As Linda Lantieri says,

“…That’s the part that I forget and many others forget, that we need to spend time nurturing our inner lives if we’re going to feel good about the job we do in the outer world.” – See more at the Tides Blog.

Our teachers need permission, resources and encouragement to take care of themselves in whatever ways are meaningful to them.  So do our kids. Giving ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.

As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tell his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action.  Regular contemplative practice can build the brain circuitry that allows the downstairs brain, or reptilian brain, to stop high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event. Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman  in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

 

Here’s to finding a few quiet moments in your day,

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Lisa Dewey Wells

6 Strategies for Teachers to Maintain Summer Sanity

NOTE:

Over the years, certain patterns have developed in the cycle of posts.  August has been the time to reflect on teaching and the thoughtful efforts by teachers to set the stage for a positive school year.  This pattern continues with a series of posts on self -care, understanding your content and child development, and keeping up with the digital tools that enhance our profession. Whether you’re still at the beach or prepping lesson plans or perhaps already in the classroom, read on.

source: iStock Photo

Despite the myth that teachers get the “summer off,” many teachers take advantage of the lull in the year to dig out from the year, find themselves and/or get away from it all.  Once school ends, it can take a few weeks to wind down, then the slower pace kicks in and a heightened level of sanity takes over.  For me, that tends to last a couple of weeks and then I get the Itch. I wake up with lesson ideas or memories of teachable moments that weren’t so teachable in the ways I intended.  Or I’m up late researching new curriculum, reading new books, sorting through old materials, making lists.  The ebb and flow of work and rest throughout the year is something teachers share.  Given a choice, most of us would not give up summer, but then again, most of us do not go on a full hiatus all summer.

That heightened sense of sanity we teachers achieve in the summer stems from the time and ability to take better care of ourselves, our loved ones, our living environments.   We’re permitted to have some fun, invest in our teaching or other passions, and keep our eye on the upcoming school year. Oh, and sleep and exercise a bit more, too.  However, once the school year kicks in, leisurely reading over coffee, long bike rides, extra time with family  and taking care of ourself are usually compromised, at least until Thanksgiving break.

Sustaining that feeling of summer sanity while juggling the demands of teaching and life can be challenging, but not impossible.  Below are  6 strategies you can employ as the school year approaches and rely upon as the year unfolds all in the name of keeping your sanity! Continue reading “6 Strategies for Teachers to Maintain Summer Sanity”